After trying to grow my career in Product, I've attained a good title and a decent growth story. What I've realized, however, is that I've fallen behind in skills I may have polished if I were more discerning about the employers I considered. I was so focused on title and salary that I failed to examine how companies develop product. Consequently, my product development chops are somewhat lacking for someone with my years of experience.
If I were to meet myself three years ago, here is what I'd say:
You're doing a great job but you still have no idea what you're doing. You're going to be tempted to take opportunities as they come because it's exciting and you're impatient. Unfortunately, this will bite you in the ass years later. Here are the crucial questions you must ask before even considering an employer. If you can't get hired by an employer that meets all of these requirements, go get your masters in HCI (for UX) or your MBA (for Product Management).
1. Are Product decisions made from data? What data? How is that data gathered? Are there tools used to analyze the data? Who analyzes the data? Do all Product Managers make product decisions in the same way? Every product decision (hypothesis) needs to be based on data. It should never be because someone thinks it's cool, because one customer asked for it, or because the company is trying to imitate a popular brand.
2. Who will be the primary decision maker for all of the products I build? Who is responsible for that person's performance? There should be a clear answer to this. One person needs to be the final decision maker of every decision and it needs to be clear to the entire company. If it isn't, the internal misalignment will result in a lot of conflict and it will be impossible for you to succeed since your goals aren't clear.
3. Who manages the budget for the products I build? This needs to be crystal clear-similar to the one decision maker in #2.
4. Who defines the company's product vision? How do they do that? How do they communicate that vision to the rest of the company? Also similar to #1 and #2, one person needs to be responsible for signing off on this. They also need to communicate the plan or have a strategy for communication with the rest of the company so plans and products don't live in a vacuum.
5. How are development resources allocated to product? The loudest, most aggressive person on Product should not have all the resources. Resources should be dependent on the company's product priorities and the best development strategy (different developers have different skills and different projects have different dependencies).
6. How does the development team work with Product? Making product should be an ongoing collaboration between development and product. It should not be a hand off. Developers should understand the use cases and personas and Product Managers should ensure those stories are clearly articulated.
7. Who will be my primary mentor? How will they mentor me? There needs to be some sort of structure in place to define and determine growth.
8. How does Marketing and Product work together? Is there a Product Marketing person or team? Is Product Marketing in the dark about Product? Is there good collaboration between the two departments?
9. Are your developers on site? Are they in the country? This has been a huge painpoint of mine. Communication is difficult. It's even more difficult when people are in different time zones and when you can't collaborate regularly face to face. It takes a toll on the product as well because misalignment leads to a decline in product quality.
10. How is Product success evaluated? What happens when a product fails? The best products are measured so PMs can keep iterating or kill new features. If product isn't measured, it becomes bloated and inefficient.
11. How does Product and UX work together? How do their responsibilities differ? How do they overlap? UX and Product are very similar. It's really important to distinguish roles and responsibilities for the two departments to prevent conflict/butting heads.